Ed Sheeran, left, arrives at Manhattan federal court in New York, Wednesday, April 26, 2023. The heirs of Ed Townsend, Marvin Gaye's co-writer of the 1973 soul classic, sued Sheeran, alleging the English pop star's hit 2014 tune has "striking similarities" to "Let's Get It On" and "overt common elements" that violate their copyright.
Did Ed Sheeran copy this famous song? Listen for yourself
02:27 - Source: CNN
New York CNN  — 

A Manhattan jury found Ed Sheeran’s hit “Thinking Out Loud” did not infringe on the copyright of the classic Marvin Gaye song “Let’s Get It On.”

The jury determined that Sheeran did not wrongfully copy compositional elements or melodies from “Let’s Get It On.” The jury found that Sheeran independently created his song.

Sheeran later said he is “obviously very happy with the outcome of the case,” adding “it looks like I’m not having to retire from my day job after all.”

“But at the same time I’m unbelievably frustrated that baseless claims like this are allowed to go to court at all,” he said. Sheeran said eight years were spent talking about two songs with “dramatically” different lyrics melodies “and four chords which are also different and used by songwriters everyday all over the world.”

Sheeran also delved into the emotional toll of the trial for him, noting that it required him to miss being with his family for his grandmother’s funeral in Ireland. “I will never get that time back,” he said.

The trial concerned Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud,” which won the 2016 Grammy award for song of the year. The family of Ed Townsend, who co-wrote “Let’s Get It On” with Gaye, had accused Sheeran of copying the 1973 hit.

The plaintiffs had alleged similarities between the chord progression, harmonic rhythm, and certain melodies in the two songs. Sheeran’s legal team had argued that the melodies are different and the elements used in both songs are common in pop music.

The case was closely watched for its potential to further complicate the legal landscape for songwriters, after a number of high-profile music copyright lawsuits in recent years.

A solo performance, and claims of a smoking gun

During the trial, Sheeran performed the opening line of “Thinking Out Loud” for the jury in an attempt to rebut the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness. Sheeran also said he found the allegations in the case “really insulting.”

Sheeran testified that he and co-writer Amy Wadge wrote “Thinking Out Loud” in less than a day in February 2014 when Wadge was staying at his house in the UK.

Sheeran said he and Wadge both had relatives who were ill or had recently died, and thinking about their long marriages served as inspiration for the song.

Ben Crump, a lawyer representing the family of the co-writer for Gaye’s 1973 hit “Let’s Get It On,” said in his opening statement that Sheeran played his ballad and Gaye’s song back-to-back in a medley during a concert, and called the moment a “smoking gun.”

During his testimony, Sheeran said the idea of creating the medley was “probably mine.” He said if he had, indeed, copied “Let’s Get It On,” then he “would’ve been an idiot to stand on stage in front of 20,000 people.”

A wave of lawsuits

Music copyright lawsuits have become increasingly common in the music industry over the past few years.

Gaye’s family has previously sued other artists for copyright infringement—and won. The estate successfully sued singer Robin Thicke and producer Pharrell Williams for $7.4 million in 2015 for borrowing from Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” for their hit “Blurred Lines,” though the case turned into a five-year legal battle that ultimately saw the judgment reduced to $5.3 million. The ruling also awarded Gaye’s family 50% percent of the royalties from “Blurred Lines” moving forward.